|A day among the Acadians- Saturday, August 2
If you pay attention to the bilingual road signs in Canada, you can learn a lot of French. Today we started with a long walk along la plage, then we disconnected and headed out. At Cabot Trail we turned droit and drove 9 kilometers sud to see a couple of attractions we’d passed by yesterday.
Toujours l’amour! OK - so that wasn’t on any of the road signs. I just threw it in to spice things up.
Our first destination was the Scarecrow place. We passed it yesterday and it was so weird we had to go back to see what it was all about. Turns out this homme, Joe, decided to put in a nice garden on some land he owned along the highway. He put in a nice garden of vegetables and flowers, but after a few days work it became obvious the deer and birds were eating the plants as fast as he could plant them.
His friends told him to put up a scarecrow to frighten the critters away, so he built three scarecrows, dressed them up to the nines, and put them out in his garden. He fastened rags and ribbons to them, to heighten the effect and went on home for the night.
The next day when he went to work in his garden, there were three tourists there who had stopped to take pictures of his scarecrows. They told him, “Forget about the garden and just do scarecrows!” so he did. That was many years ago and today there are more than a hundred. It’s not only become a family business, complete with a small café and a gift shop, but it’s become a community landmark and source of fun and pride. It’s considered a sure sign of spring when Joe puts out his scarecrows for another season.
One night in the 1980’s vandals destroyed everything. Only one scarecrow survived that attack. Today it stands proudly with the others, and politely asks for a ‘small donation’ to keep the project going. Otherwise the Scarecrow Garden is free and you are invited to take pictures and give them your comments. I told them we’d gladly send them our President to add to their ‘World Leaders’ group. He could just stand out there with the others and who would know the difference?
The scarecrows are very fitting for this community, because here they have a spring festival that is all about making masks and dressing up. It’s called Mi-Careme, and it was started many years ago by the local Catholics. In the spirit of Mardi Gras, which is a traditional last fling before the rigors of Lent, Mi-Careme was devised as a similar little break in the middle of Lent. It was a day to break your Lenten vows and indulge yourself, but you had to disguise yourself so the local priest wouldn’t know who you were.
Over the years it has turned into a very big deal, and today the whole community turns out for it. Conceived originally as a single day, it soon became three days, and now goes on for a whole week. The trick is for those not dressing up to try and identify the ones who do, and there is a lot of partying and foolery that accompanies the celebration. Immediately after Lent everyone begins working on their masquesand their costumes for next year.
They even have a Centre de la Mi-Careme which is currently housed with the library and the Volunteer Fire Department, but is soon to have it’s own building. We stopped by to see it, and spent over an hour in the company of a very nice Acadian woman who played a video for us, and then gave us a guided tour of the Centre to see the masques and how they are made. She also gave us a demo on hooking rugs and mats, and invited us to try it out.
Rug hooking is huge here, and this community is famous for it. There are over 100 women (and probably some men) currently engaged in the ’industry’, and their work is to be found in many of the galleries and gift shops around Cheticamp. Our next stop was at Flora’s, a store where they demonstrate the art and have many items for sale.
From Flora’s we drove into Cheticamp and paid the town a visit. We had a great lunch of Chicken Fricot, Fish Chowder and Blueberry Pudding avec Hot Sauce at one of the Acadian restaurants. On the other end of town we found a museum Madolyn had read about and we stopped to check it out. It’s a museum devoted to Antiques and Acadian Life, and also to Rug Hooking. If I was expecting it to be tedious and tiresome I was in for a surprise.
From the opening introduction I was hooked myself (pun intended). The antiques are from the collection of Margaret Gallant, who had left Nova Scotia as a young woman to go to Massachusetts and work as a maid. She worked for a woman who collected antiques and learned about collecting from her. When the woman died her heirs told Margaret she could have any of the things she wanted, and thus began her own collection. She returned to Nova Scotia and continued collecting antiques for the rest of her life. When she died in her 90’s she willed this remarkable collection to a local society and it became the foundation for the museum.
The items are displayed so beautifully that it adds immensely to the warmth and interest of the collection. There are tools for lumbering, carpentry and farming, and enough furnishing to fill an entire home. Interpretive signs use text and pictures to make the experience informative, and extremely interesting as a result.
The second section of the museum is devoted to a display of hooked rugs, but it’s pride is a collection of the work of Elizabeth LeFort. While other artists concentrated on geometric designs and landscapes, Elizabeth LaFort began to incorporate portraits into her work. She became so good at it that her work has hung in the White House, in the Vatican, and in Buckingham Palace in England, not to mention the halls of the Canadian Government.
Elizabeth worked into her 90’s and was still working right up until her recent death. The museum has a number of her pieces, including some monumentally large ones that are absolutely stunning. She dyed most of her own wool, and the colors are brilliant and beautifully shaded. She portrayed everyone from poor Acadian cleaning women, to astronauts, world leaders and Jesus himself. The admission fee to this museum is only $4.00 a person, a very small sum to pay for several hours of such enjoyment.
On the way back to camp we stopped at the boulangerie for meat pies and cookies, the fish market for fresh haddock and scallops, and the Dollar Store for a (dollar and a half) French/English dictionary. Mon Dieu, mon ami!
A final note on bilingual road signs. Before you get to the Cabot Trail and the Acadian part of Cape Breton, you first follow the Ceilidh Trail through the Celtic part of the island. Here the road signs are written in English and Gaelic. If you think French is hard to pronounce, try Gaelic!
Hint: Ceilidh is pronounced Kay-lee. There - that should get you started. :-)